Health departments that use Twitter can better educate patients, study says

Social media is becoming an important tool that health care networks can use to disseminate information to patients.

And a new study confirms that using Twitter, in particular, is linked to health departments having more diabetes-related programs for patients.

The research, led by Jenine K. Harris, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, focused specifically on diabetes - which is a condition estimated to affect about one-third of U.S. adults by the year 2050.

Diabetics seek health info online

"We focused on diabetes first," Harris said, "both because of increasing diabetes rates and also because people living with diabetes tend to use online health-related resources at a fairly high rate, so they are an audience that is already online and on social media."

Over a period of one month, Harris and her team monitored tweets from all local health departments who had Twitter accounts that were related to diabetes. Then, the researchers compared health departments who used Twitter with those who did not.

Health departments who were tweeting about diabetes were in larger cities, had more staff and had higher per capita spending than departments not tweeting about diabetes. While bigger cities with more money may have the ability to hire social media specialists, Twitter is still a free service that can be utilized by anyone.

Social media useful for reaching broad audience

"Social media reaches a large proportion of the population, including low-income and minority groups that are often hard to reach,” Harris said. “Some research has demonstrated that people are looking online for health information, making social media a potentially very useful way to reach a large audience already seeking health information.”

The health departments that were active on Twitter also were more likely to provide nutritional education programs, physical activity classes or other resources that would be helpful for diabetics.

The study can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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